John R. Johnson Sr., who worked his way up from firefighter and paramedic to battalion chief in the Baltimore City Fire Department, died of renal failure Wednesday at Carroll County General Hospital. He was 64 and a lifelong resident of Baltimore.
"He was well-known and respected throughout the department," said Sheri Luck, president of the Vulcan Blazers, an organization of local black firefighters that Mr. Johnson helped found.
"He cared about the people who worked for him and was passionate about the mission of saving lives," said Ms. Luck, who is a firefighter/paramedic in the department.
Born in West Baltimore, Mr. Johnson was a 1956 graduate of Dunbar High School, where he was on the varsity football and track teams.
After brief service in the Air Force, he joined the Fire Department in 1961.
Mr. Johnson was a tillerman on a hook-and-ladder truck and later became a paramedic. During that time, he earned a degree in fire protection technology at Baltimore City Community College.
At the time of his retirement in 1995, Mr. Johnson was the battalion chief of the Medical Bureau, where he was responsible for the daily operation of the department's medical services, including ambulance calls.
Retired Lt. Henry Burris, who attended community college with Mr. Johnson, recalled that "Chief Johnson was very cool under pressure."
He remembered an incident in 1976 in which firefighters responded to a man who lay dying from a heart attack in West Baltimore. "We found the gentleman and he was unresponsive," Mr. Burris said. "Then a lieutenant, Chief Johnson came in and helped direct the treatment protocol on the patient, and we were successful in reviving the man."
In addition to his association with the Vulcan Blazers, Mr. Johnson served as secretary for the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters.
Mr. Johnson received several awards for fire and medical rescues and taught life-saving techniques such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the community. He was also honored for lifetime achievement by the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.
After retirement from the Fire Department, he worked for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where he helped inspect assisted-living facilities.
He enjoyed travel and golf.
A service was held Saturday at Shiloh African Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore.
Survivors include a daughter, Michele Johnson, and a son, John R. Johnson Jr., both of Baltimore; three sisters, Alice Logan, Elsie Faconer and Frances Johnson, all of Baltimore; three brothers, Leroy Johnson, Stansbury Johnson and Jimmy Johnson, all of Baltimore; and three grandchildren.